Response to Brad Warner on The Psychedelic Experience

Recently, Brad Warner had posted his hardline position on drugs/psychedelics. His conclusion:

You can comment all you want, but you won’t change my mind about drugs. You will always and forever be wrong if you try to equate true spirituality with frying your brain on chemicals (even if they grow inside cacti and fungi). Put it this way, if you want me to say drugs are cool, you’re gonna lose. And what would that make you?

I was a bit surprised that Brad has taken this position since he’s one of the rebels and bad boys in popular American Buddhism. So I tried to engage him in discussion so that I can draw out more perspectives where he’s coming from.

I pointed to him that his position on this issue is very limited and that Sam Harris has a more nuanced view. See Sam Harris: Drugs and the Meaning of Life. I also pointed to Brad a more recent scientific study of psilocybin conducted by Dr. Roland Griffiths.  See The Secular Buddhist: Episode 69: Dr. Roland Griffiths: Psilocybin and Meditation.

However, it looks like Brad continue to stick to his hardline position without even acknowledging or taking into consideration the scientific findings on psychedelics. So, in conclusion, here’s what I posted on Brad’s discussion on Facebook (with very slight spelling and grammatical corrections).


sorry to hear that you had a bad trip using LSD. i've heard a lot of stories about the dangers of drug use while i was growing up so i have never tried any drugs myself. not even once. (and besides my father would've beaten my ass if i tried :))

however, i do recognize the potential of drugs/psychedelics as a valid way (actually ancient way, much more ancient than meditation) if used in moderation and in the context of exploring and expanding one's own mind/consciousness.

our main difference on this topic is that of attitude. it looks like you got traumatized by your experience with drugs. so now you cling to your opinion that drugs "are extremely dangerous. No one should use them ever." fine, if that's what you think, so be it. only you can change your position. but what ever happened to the "middle way"?

anyway, what i and Rene are pointing out to you and to your readers/fans/FB friends is that there's a more nuanced and scientifically-informed view which honor your position on drugs (e.g. it being dangerous) and its potential to transform consciousness. let me point you again to the most recent research conducted by Dr. Roland Griffiths. here's an excerpt from NYTimes.

"In one of Dr. Griffiths’s first studies, involving 36 people with no serious physical or emotional problems, he and colleagues found that psilocybin could induce what the experimental subjects described as a profound spiritual experience with lasting positive effects for most of them. None had had any previous experience with hallucinogens, and none were even sure what drug was being administered. "

imho, your experience on drugs is precisely the reason why this thing need to be studied and used in a controlled environment. people have always and will always use drugs (at least that's how it's been historically). so all the more reason to study it's effects, learn what's the optimal use, in order to avoid its dangers.

i think that you denying this scientific fact is a disservice to your own personal growth and to the influence you have on your readers/fans/students.

thank you for engaging me in this discussion.


UPDATE: Brad Warner posted a response on my Facebook page. Also, he’s been responding on his FB page.

Here’s Brad’s response on my FB page:

There is no longer any way an average person can engage in drug (ab)use in a controlled environment. Like I already said, what’s sold these days as “LSD” almost never is. Same with most other such substances. The consumer never knows what they’re getting. It’s extremely bad stuff. Your assumptions about how I arrived at my conclusions are only partly correct. It goes far beyond a mere traumatic experience.

And here’s my response:

Brad, you said: “There is no longer any way an average person can engage in drug (ab)use in a controlled environment.” unfortunately, you are correct on this. but only because of the stigma on drugs perpetrated by the U. S. government’s “War on Drugs”, which is a losing (or already lost) position. this is what happens when ignorance on the effects of drugs is perpetrated by our own government. but this is another topic for discussion that goes into the territory of politics and economics. the gist of my opinion is to point out that there is a more mature and healthier way of dealing with drugs at a personal as well as cultural domains of experience. btw, I don’t want to get too personal but I’m interested to hear your “far beyond mere traumatic experience” of drugs, if you’re ok with disclosing it publicly.

However, I think this response from R.T. on Brad’s FB page really nailed it. It’s an excellent response coming from someone outside the U.S.

Brad, I can’t talk for your part of the world, but here proper set and setting is still available. One reason it’s not so easy to find are people like you who demonize LSD without knowing what they talk about, so it’s pushed in the underground.

The university of Zurich is officially running a research program about LSD and Psylocibin with humans, and some psychiatrist have a legal permission to use it with patients – though I’m not sure about the conditions and details right now.

If that stuff would be as dangerous as you claim, it would be unethical to do that.

And if you don’t even know if what you took was LSD or not, then your experience is simply irrelevant in regard to LSD, and then maybe the right thing to do would be to reconsider your position and say “don’t buy stuff without knowing the source”. To which I fully agree.

To restate my position, there are good reasons not to try LSD. But if anyone thinks having decades of meditative practice makes them into experts about LSD without having to work with it, then that’s simply ignorance.

Use it or don’t use it – for that, everyone has to make up his or her own mind, and if you’re in doubt, don’t use it. But if you don’t use it then I would expect enough integrity to admit having no clue instead of claiming to know it’s bad for everyone.

UPDATE: (07/13/11) – Brad Warner just posted a follow up on his blog. See “Mountain of Drugs“.

Here’s the comment I posted on his blog:


i thought that you’re already bored on this topic. and lo and behold, there you go again with another blog post! 🙂 just kidding. i really appreciate the attention you put on this topic on my FB page even if we still end up not seeing eye to eye on this issue. now that i got that out of the way…

for the most part i agree with what you posted here. that’s why i personally prefer meditation practice over drugs/psychedelics/entheogens because the former has been time-tested and the latter has more dangers and risk of incarceration. like i said, i haven’t used psychedelics myself. not even once. so based on your zero-tolerance policy i could claim that i have the moral high ground, even over you, since you tried drugs and got traumatized yourself. but this moral high ground debate on drugs (such as the “War On Drugs”) is another topic altogether so i’ll refrain from expounding on this, at least on this discussion. my view is more on the *pragmatic* and *scientific* perspectives on the potential of drugs to *alter and transform consciousness*.

again, i would recommend your readers to see Sam Harris’s position on this issue. see: “Drugs and the Meaning of Life” – – i’m with Harris on this one. we share the same nuanced view on this issue. and you can’t accuse him of not meditating because he’s a long-time practitioner of Vipassana meditation.

so my first point, how come Sam Harris, a long-time meditator has a different attitude on psychedelics than you? i haven’t seen you addressed this point. you continue to resort to simplistic and metaphorical arguments which to me are dead ends. let’s talk evidence and science. let’s talk about the empirical findings on psychedelics and meditation. then let’s compare the two instead of just flat out saying that drug users are “losers” and meditators are the real deal.

the main issue i have with you is your outright dismissal of psychedelics as a valid way of transforming consciousness. your bias with meditation (more specifically with Zen style Buddhism) is so deeply ingrained that you don’t (or can’t) address the nuanced position that i hold on this issue. i’m not sure whether you truly understand my nuanced position at all, or whether you just continue to intentionally ignore it and then resort to a simplistic (or caricatured straw-man) version of my carefully-crafted arguments. to me that wreaks of intellectual dishonesty. i’ll refrain from labeling you as a “fundamentalist.” i acknowledge that labeling you like that is unfair and unwarranted. but it seems to me that you’re being intellectually dishonest about this issue by not addressing the nuanced position i’m pointing to and ignoring the scientific facts from recent research that *drugs do transform people’s consciousness and improve their well-being when used in moderation, optimal dosage, and right setting.*

that’s all for now.

thanks again for your attention.

And here’s a comment I posted on Brad’s “Mountain of Drugs” thread on his FB page.

who cares about the the mountain climbing metaphor? that’s a dead end argument on both sides. here’s my point from an esoteric perspective, which Brad seems to ignore (or unable to fathom) altogether.

people who use drugs and people who meditate are just as susceptible of being trapped in the “Intermediate Realm”
(see my blog post for more context:

the main difference between the two approaches is that drugs could catapult a person deep into the subconscious much *faster* and more *consistently* than meditation (at least when compared to beginning meditators and those who have no experience with meditation). hence, the danger of using (and abusing) drugs.

but the fact that drugs are dangerous doesn’t *invalidate* it of its potential to transform consciousness. if the experiencer already has a *healthy psychological framework* from which to interpret his/her experience in the “Intermediate Realm” then drug-induced states can be used as skillful means to observe the three characteristics of experience: unsatisfactoriness, impermanance, and no self as thing.

in point of fact, this is what the Tibetan Buddhists do in their dream yoga practice. the experience in dream yoga (or lucid dream practice) is similar to drug-induced states. the practitioner “sees” magnificent dreamscapes, creatures, aliens, mythological beings, etc. in the dream. the challenge for the practitioner is to see beyond the forms in the dream state. this is the same challenge that people have to deal with in a drug-induced state. that’s why it’s important to approach drug use with utmost care and guidance because it’s so easy to induce that state compared with meditation and lucid dreaming.

and that is the point that Brad continue to ignore. maybe because he doesn’t have much experience with dream yoga, or maybe because he was deeply traumatized by his drug experience. i have no issue with Brad’s direct-plunge-into-the-Source approach (aka Zen). my issue with him is his bias with meditation and his outright dismissal of drugs and its potential to transform consciousness.

UPDATE: (07/15/11) – The discussion on psychedelics continue on Brad’s FB page. But I get the impression that Brad is not really that interested in an honest intellectual conversation on this matter. He didn’t even have the courtesy to link to this blog post. He has his beliefs and he’s happy to stick with it. So I’ll just conclude this blog post with two seemingly contrasting perspectives on this topic.

One perspective is Michael Harner’s view based on his empirical findings and his anthropological research. See “My Path in Shamanism – Interview with Michael Harner.” Here’s a relevant quote:

‎The shaman is an empirical pragmatist. The worlds are wherever the shaman sees them. The idea that all this is happening inside us is, in contrast, a theory.

What do you say to students who want to take psychedelics?

It’s fine if they want to do it; that’s their business. But I don’t want my students to get the idea that they have to do that. I want them to get the bigger picture—that there’s another reality and that it’s accessible by various means.

And the other perspective is the neuroscience perspective as eloquently described by Michael Persinger in his award-winning lecture on “Psychotropic Drugs and the Nature of Reality.” Watch this video.

I conclude this blog post with a question: Instead of “War on Drugs” or ignorance on drugs, how about “Education on Drugs”?

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